Thursday, 18 April 2013
If you are anything like me, you read the phrase High Concept and wrinkle your brow. Nicola Morgan has a talent for explaining things in terms I can understand, and I bless her time and again when she does. Here's her succinct explanation of High Concept: "Essentially, a book with an extra-strong hook. A high-concept novel is one which is easy to sell because the idea has wow factor and is easy to explain very quickly. The wow factor often comes from a sense of, “Why didn’t I think of that? That’s going to sell in shedloads. Damn it.”
High Concept often means High Stakes. The fact that you fancied a married man and bravely decided to give him up for the sake of your family is not exactly High Stakes to anyone else, though it may be to you. No one is going to die even if you do decide to kick over the traces and run off to Marrakech, though a few are going to be pretty miserable for a while. High Stakes fictionally means at least the risk death for the hero, and sometimes the end of the world. Hopefully it also means that the writing will be good.
High Concept usually means you can easily explain the premise and that it will grab attention - for example: Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The tag line that sold it was something like a boy shipwrecked on powerless boat with dying zebra, hyena and tiger called Richard Parker. For a long time I took one look at that and thought to myself What Rot. I studiously avoided reading it for almost two years, but I never forgot it. Then it became an acclaimed film, appeared on Kindle at 20p and I couldn't resist any longer. For 20p I would take a look at this strange book. Within pages, I was hooked.
Another bestseller was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. This one I am still avoiding, and don't think I will ever read. But the tag line that sells it certainly has a stand-out quality. "An autistic savant with a fear of yellow finds a dead dog and sets out to solve the killing." Other titles might include any of the Harry Potter books, or The Hunger Games.
The trouble with agents and publishers seeking High Concept manuscripts is that, in aiming to please, there is a risk every book published will become a ride of thrilling anxiety and overdone conflict. Introspection becomes lost, and description is thrown overboard as exciting incident follows incident. Some books turn out to be quite tiring to read. There was a famous book about following clues in the Louvre that had me aching for the last chapter long before it arrived.
You can find out lots more entertaining ans useful things at Nicola's blog: